Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Teams Up on Coral Study

Photo by Stacy Peltier, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

Photo by Stacy Peltier, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

WOODS HOLE – The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has announced new developments in the tiny world of ocean bacteria, as it pertains to coral reef systems.

A joint study between WHOI and several other scientific bodies found that not only do small, planktonic bacteria feed on coral systems, but that corals also selectively feed on specific strands of bacteria.

The bacteria which the corals target are also the strands whose growth is promoted by organic matter and nutrients released by corals, according to the study.

A total of nine seawater tanks were used in a 12-day experiment. The team counted microbes in the seawater to track the different populations and how they responded to different treatments.

They added mucus obtained from corals in three of the tanks, kept another three as controls, and in the remaining three, corals were introduced and removed later.

The scientists observed microbe numbers reduced drastically when corals were placed in the tanks.

But when the corals were removed, the rapid growth rates of the microbes took the researchers by surprise: the rates were some of the fasted ever documented, according to the study.

The team said that this suggests microbes grow on something that corals leave behind, an influencer the corals have on the surrounding microbial community.

Coral reefs are, according to WHOI, disappearing at unprecedented rates around the world due to global warming and ocean acidification.

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